The ability to see outliers and unexpected shifts is core to AI-enabled consumer intelligence, the category defined by Forrester and increasingly being embraced by both insights professionals, and their peers in marketing, and CX. As our CMO has discussed in a recent post, Synthesio is leading the AICI charge and helping our clients navigate this emerging market. 

But behind the scenes, the story of AICI has actually been developing for some time. Along with decades of market research, advances in machine learning (ML) in the Natural Language Understanding domain is making it possible to actually decode the true meaning behind human language at Internet scale.

Social data holds a deep well of insight that is hard to live without; especially for insights pros operating in the consumer trend, innovation design, brand, and market understanding domains. This is where the so-called “unknown unknowns” become so important. The answers to questions you don’t yet know to ask. And untapped, unmet customer needs you haven’t yet discovered.

Let’s decode the story behind this concept, and what it takes to actually discover them.


Why it matters 

Discovering the unknown unknowns from people data is really the pinnacle of advanced consumer intelligence. It’s what makes AICI so advanced. Starting with user-generated data, unlike many other research methods, it gives us a boundless experimental landscape to find the unexpected and wade into the complexity of openly shared consumer experiences within the subject we’re delving into.

Let’s look at an example…

In previous work for a multinational food corporation, our insights & consultancy team explored the role of foods within the context of wholesome wellbeing. We developed a novel view on what wholesome wellbeing means for consumers and how they define it.

We analyzed over 6 million consumer signals to explore which behaviors and attitudes they adopt within their wellbeing regime, and which diets, foods and specific ingredients are an integral part of it. 

Then we applied an econometric prediction model leveraging social and search data to forecast the future impact for over 30 ingredients within the wholesome wellbeing landscape.

This type of impact prediction and immersion into emotional and functional needs brings the unknown unknowns to the surface. Nurturing novel innovation initiatives to target previously uncharted need-solution pairs. 


How it works

Semantic AI in the form of unsupervised, computational ML models are a powerful way to model and decode the meaning behind emerging expressions. Algorithms incorporated in our AICI solution not only cluster and size the topic landscape within a data corpus, but also surface their contextual surrounding – which can guide human analysts in further discovery efforts.

For example, let’s go back to the wholesome wellbeing case. In the Immunity Boost topic, we see that Turmeric is strongly associated with its anti-inflammatory properties by consumers: a potential innovation area, but maybe not.

Machine Intelligence

Machine intelligence does a great job laying the foundations, helping us navigate between complex contextual layers – something that is not easily available to the human eye as unknown unknowns are often well hidden in data layers.  Bottom-up Topic Modeling – now offered as a self-service tool from Synthesio, is vital in early stages to establish a comprehensive understanding of the conversation landscape, without the inevitable natural human biases that creep in.

However, it’s unlikely that AI models can completely surface true unknown unknowns in an automated fashion. This is where human intelligence from experienced cultural analysts with analytical frameworks becomes essential. 

So, human-machine teams unlock this potential, and also deliver scale and speed, and also accuracy to have confidence in results. Which is why hybrid approaches, combining organic and artificial intelligence, to AICI are likely going to be the best approach for brands getting their hands around this next-generation of market research for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, if we revisit our Turmeric example, it turns out that with further exploration, the ancient spice in fact became a super ingredient because of various consumer benefits and need spaces. Not only as an anti-inflammatory, but also as helpful in anti-aging, weight loss, and natural teeth whitening – previously unknown unknowns!

These are the types of pointers that should excite insights pros, as they lead to new opportunities for innovation and brand growth, as well as recognition for the business value of AI-enabled consumer intelligence.